I like new business models, but sometimes it isn’t a new business model at all, just a new industry to apply it to. That is what Shai Agassi is trying to do. He has a project called Better Place, which is trying to create a viable electric car platform.
The business model Mr. Agassi is using is the same one as cell phone carriers. Instead of buying minutes of use on the network, you buy miles. And just like you need a cell phone to access the network, you need a battery to drive the electric car. That is what I really like about the model, it assumes that battery technology will improve and probably at a fast pace, so why saddle the consumer with that churn? It disincents them to buy an electric car and you never get the scale you need.
David Pogue of the NY Times highlighted Mr. Agassi in a couple of pieces recently. One was in the paper and it’s called Electric Cars for All! (No, Really This Time) and the other was on CBS Sunday News and it is called Making The World A ‘Better Place’
There are still many hurdles to overcome, but two major obstacles have crumbled recently.
The first is cost. The cost of the electric car was too high for any serious adoption to happen. The cost has to be slightly under the cost of a gasoline car because of the initial hassles and learning curve. This model equates a driving mile to $0.06 to $0.08 whereas a gasoline based mile is $0.10 to $0.12. This cost savings adds up. For instance, if you take the $0.08 for electric and $0.10 for gasoline and drive a typical 12,000 miles over a year then your numbers look like $960 for electric and $1200 for gasoline. A $240 yearly savings.
The second is the US Auto Industry and their pull in Washington. But it wasn’t just because they are hurting financially. It also is because the variability of the price of oil creates constant management of the decision making process. How do you plan when in June of 2008 the price of a barrel of oil was $143 and by December it was $40. There are significant costs in just managing the what ifs.
I still see two major hurdles in the way though. Infrastructure and Culture. Mr. Agassi is addressing the infrastructure element by working with state governments like Hawaii and California in the US, Israel, and European nations and partnering to cover the cost of installing devices that are similar to a parking meter, but act as a recharger. Many people are habitual with what they buy and a product or service has to be a real differentiator to get people to change. I think this idea is that significant. But good ideas have to leave no doubt and if I’m a 68 year old man in Texas I’m probably not interested.
I recommend looking at Shai Agassi’s resume. He’s the type of person who shapes the future. By 30 years old he was financially set after selling his first start up and before he was 40 he was shaping one of the worlds largest software companies – SAP. Although things didn’t work out for him to become the CEO, he did expand his knowledge of integrating different components for success. In software it could be the business rules, the programming code, the database, and the tech infrastructure. With electric cars it is the battery technology, the fill up behavior, the cost model, and the government. Integrating each of these with scale and timing is a tough task, but it looks like he knows it.
I believe there is an earnest desire in the US to move to an electric car platform. Just make it easy on consumers.
Working Thoughts 03-20-08
Interview Question: How much sleep a night do you get? Part 1